Ivory Bill - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:11 pm on 17th July 2018.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley of Knighton Lord Berkeley of Knighton Crossbench 5:11 pm, 17th July 2018

My Lords, I want to bring to the Minster’s attention some specific concerns on behalf of the musical community. I will focus on comments already touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, and just now the noble Lord, Lord Carrington of Fulham. In passing, I pay tribute to the majestic trumpetings of the noble Lord, Lord Hague, on behalf of the African elephant, but I am afraid that I will focus more on string instruments than trumpets.

Before I do, I must say emphatically that I have no doubt that every member of the musical community is entirely in sympathy with and strongly supports the overriding aims of the Government’s Bill, as do I. However, I have received representation from two very distinguished musicians in particular: the ex-director of the Royal Academy of Music, Sir Curtis Price, and the present director, Jonathan Freeman-Attwood. They focused on young musicians and students, so what follows comes with much academic muscle. Furthermore, we have received expert advice from Peter Beare of Beare’s, the leading maker, repairer and dealer of string instruments, and violins in particular. He has been in touch with Defra for several years but says that just as we seemed to be getting somewhere with the department, the Bill could present a potential setback. The ban could cause real hardship for professional string players, especially young ones and students.

The proposed UK ivory ban has the potential to make life extremely difficult and expensive for almost all violinists, violists and cellists. Beare says that Defra has been extremely helpful in providing an exemption which will cover most of the historic instruments and, perhaps more relevant to most players, their bows. However, there are a few problems. Everyone will need to obtain an exemption certificate from the department before they can apply for a CITES permit that will allow them to sell anything—such as most bows—that has an ivory part, however small. They will be able to obtain these certificates only if they can provide proof that the ivory was used before 1975, which could be difficult in many cases, especially for an 18-year-old student. No bows made after 1975, the date when Asian elephants were listed, will be allowed to be sold, even though the African ivory used for bows was not listed until 1990. As I say, this will particularly hurt younger musicians in the pocket. What are they to do with those dates between 1975 and 1990? It is also proposed that mammoth ivory, extinct and therefore not listed, might be added to the ban. It may astonish noble Lords, as it astonished me, to hear that mammoth has been used as the only suitable replacement by the trade since the 1990s, both on new bows and in restoration work. This potential ban could exacerbate the problem.

Beare suggests that a total, paperwork-free exemption—for example, 5 gram de minimis—for ivory of any sort on bows might be possible. A violin bow face weighs less than 1 gram and a cello bow face about 2 grams. We are talking about tiny amounts. I asked Peter Beare this morning if any other material could be used for new bows and repairs, and he said that metal had been tried but that no material was as good as ivory. However, we are talking about a tiny amount, sourced only ever from elephants who had died of old age or the excavated remains of mammoths. Is it not rather wonderful that the remains of old animals who have led a full and complete life should then sing their way to a form of musical immortality in the hands of young musicians?